By Ifeanyi Izeze
When The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) described as a “callous act” the signing of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law by President Muhammadu Buhari because it shows the feeling of Niger Delta people does not matter, they got it all wrong. The problem is not Buhari but the leaders and people of the region.
In their mind as expressed in a statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, PANDEF is convinced that “ what this act signifies is an unequivocal message to the Niger Delta people that how they feel and what they say, do not count, at all, in the schemes of the Nigerian Project.”
The Petroleum Industry Act provides legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian petroleum industry, the development of host communities, and related matters.
The bill’s eventual passage on July 15 by the National Assembly was dimmed by a controversy over the allocation of three percent revenue to oil bearing and producing host communities in the Niger Delta instead of the agreed five percent, while a fund for the exploration of oil in frontier basins, mostly in northern states, received 30 per cent allocation.
The quota was rejected by the Southern Governors’ Forum and leaders of the South-south region, who demanded 10 per cent, or in the minimum, five percent as earlier passed by the House of Representatives.
The leadership of the Senate under Ahmad Lawan, brushed aside the concerns and harmonised the bill, ready for presidential assent.
How else can anyone describe the unprecedented speedy presidential assent of the bill if not to say that it is both unfortunate and tragic that despite the overwhelming outcry and condemnation that greeted its passage by the National Assembly, the president went ahead to sign it into law.
General Buhari’s approval of the bill Monday 16 August 2021means he has agreed with the three percent provision for the oil communities.
The concerns raised by some sections of the country with regards to the paltry 3% provision for the Host Communities Development Trust Fund and the brazen appropriation of an outrageous 30% of NNPC Ltd profit for a dubious and vague Frontier Oil Exploration Fund, as usual never mattered to our president of course that’s if he was ‘aware’ that some serious issues were raised. Has he ever been aware of anything?
As said by aggrieved stakeholders, “This assent, by President Buhari, simply speaks to the repugnant attitude of disregard, propelled by arrogance, disdain, and contempt with which issues concerning the Niger Delta Region, the critical economic nexus of the entire country, are treated, particularly, by the present Administration.
Now, what is PANDEF going to do about this obnoxious act against the region? Absolutely nothing! It’s too late to cry when the head is off!
Saying that “Buhari’s endorsement of the bill shows that he and his party have no iota of respect for the people as well as the tenets of democracy as a system of government” is just stating the obvious but does that change anything in this circumstance?
So you folded your hands waiting to see if the president will assent to the bill on his return from the hospital. Now he has been cornered to sign the bill into law in his village while on quarantine. Una mumu don too much!
The only thing these rudderless people who ascribe the leadership of the Niger Delta to themselves are good at is dissociating themselves from genuine agitations and focused campaign in matters that affect the interest of the oil bearing and producing region. Few months ago these same people assured this same Buhari of their unalloyed loyalty and this is how you are being rewarded. Now you’ve seen the result and you are all going to live with and by it whether you like it or not.
Throughout the period that the Bill was being debated at the National Assembly, it should have occurred to the Niger Delta people that the process in itself was fraudulent as the debate was one sided and the other parties representing the interests of the oil bearing and producing communities were not even allowed to contribute not to talk of vote.
Do we need anybody to borrow us brain to have seen that the PIB which was one-sidedly debated and arrogantly passed by the National Assembly was outrightly offensive, repugnant and anti- Niger Delta people and a deliberate programme to get back at the oil producing region who the president and his people believe has been asking for too much?
Whether anybody wants to hear this or not, General Buhari should not be blamed at all for showing disdain for the people of the Niger Delta rather it was the leadership of the region that disdained themselves and their region by being docile.
Representatives of the region at the National Assembly must be commended for standing up for their people and they did it very well. But the wider Niger Delta society including PANDEF, what did they do aside issuing press statement? Ofcourse, most of them cannot even bark because their hands are soiled by the same people oppressing them. This is the truth!
Was there any effort no matter how small aside press statements that was made at all to pressure the Presidency to return the Bill to the National Assembly with a request to address the genuine concerns raised in the protest by the oil-producing communities? None at all!
The nation is supposed to listen or rather used to pay attention whenever the Niger delta talks but it is not so today because those who lead the region are so selfish, myopic and non-creative in pushing the region’s agenda and aspirations.
Just when he had assented his signature few day ago, what does anybody expect the president to do now to correct the injustice: forward an amendment Bill to the National Assembly to reflect the true wishes and aspirations of every segment of our nation especially the battered oil bearing and producing Niger Delta? That will never happen, not with this skewed President Buhari we have come to know very well that belongs to somebody that belongs to nobody. So we have to wait until another cycle of amendment is initiated and that is not going to happen under this Buhari’s administration. mark my words!
The entire process right from the debate at the Senate to the endorsement in a village in Katsina was well planned ahead and executed as was directed to the senate president. If you like write petitions from here to heaven, this president that is speaking to everybody in the language they understand is not going to dissent his endorsement at least not with the same speed he used in assenting to the document except he is also spoken to in the language he understands very well. The question is can the Niger Delta still speak in that language the president understands?
The pathetic situation in the Niger Delta of today is that the people no longer speak the same language. Everybody speaks his own language different from the other and nobody understands anybody any longer. That’s the tower of Babel that has come to be the lot of my people. Una doooh o!
(IFEANYI IZEZE is a Columnist with National Daily Newspaper and can be reached on: [email protected]; 234-8033043009)